What do married men complain about behind closed doors during couples and family therapy?
Below, marriage therapists open up about the gripes they hear most often from long-married men -- and the advice they give both partners during sessions.
1. They complain about their spouses' tendency to complain.
Men tend to be tight-lipped in couples' therapy, said Tim Cavell, a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience counseling couples. When they do voice frustrations, they usually complain about their spouses' tendency to complain, he said.
Why are guys so hesitant to open up about their own specific marital concerns?
"The answer lies in the definition of complain," the Fayetteville, Arkansas-based therapist said, ''It's 'to state that one is suffering or in pain.' So to complain is to say that you’re vulnerable or weak. Most men don’t do that."
To encourage constructive conversations between the couples, Cavell tells them to phrase their complaints as requests instead. He also gives them a little homework.
"I tell them to schedule times when they can talk safely without interruption and follow basic rules of communication covered in our sessions," he said, "For instance, taking turns talking and making I-statements instead of you-statements."
2. They're bored with their spouses.
Psychotherapist Abby Rodman often hears long-married men complain about becoming disillusioned with their marriages -- and a little bored by their wives.
"These men aren't talking about their sexual interest waning -- although that's a byproduct of the real issue -- but rather that their wives no longer make efforts to enrich their own lives through self-improvement, professional growth or new interests," the Newton, Massachusetts-based therapist said. "I want to be clear that these men aren't jerks; they really, really want to be connected to their wives in meaningful ways but instead come home every night to partners who only complain about driving carpool and work."
In her sessions, Rodman encourages the men to cultivate a connection with their spouses, whether it be in the form of a new shared hobby or penciling in weekend trips together.
"I also remind them that they found their wives interesting once and that it's imperative they find the time -- and make the commitment -- to rediscover their spouse."
3. They think their spouses are bored with them.
Men are equally fearful that their spouses are bored with them, said Jim Walkup, a marriage and family therapist based in New York City.
"When husbands come in for therapy after an affair, they will confess, 'I just didn’t think my wife cared.'"
While it may sound like a convenient way to shift the blame, Walkup encourages the couples to use that statement as a jumping-off point for a deeper conversation.
"Most couples do not get around to a discussion of how much they matter to one another," he said. "Perfunctory 'I love yous' do not suffice. Real attention to the temperature of the marriage makes a difference -- and the discussion will head off his sense that you've gotten lost with your children or your job and he doesn’t matter. One partner's lack of concern may make the other susceptible to an affair with someone who does care"
4. They're not having sex.
Bonnie Ray Kennan has heard quite a bit about the stale sex lives of long-married couples.
5. They're not speaking the same love language as their spouse.